Gridlock Versus Dialogue

What often happens when you have an argument? Are you able to hear your partner’s point of view? Do you feel your conversation ends successfully? When engaging in difficult conversation, one of two things can happen: gridlock or dialogue.

Gridlock often occurs when an argument or conversation ends with one or both partners feeling hurt, misunderstood, and/or ignored. Little progress is ever made in a position of gridlock. It’s very common during gridlock to feel defensive, argumentative, or experience feelings of hopelessness. Most couples have specific topics that lead to gridlock. It might be related to finances, child-rearing, politics, to name a few. You name it. Every couple has that one topic where communication breakdown is likely to occur. Some couples can even have multiple topics that can feel “off limits.”

Dialogue is quite the opposite to gridlock. Conversation is fluid. Both partners are open, able to accept influence, and flexible. Generally, progress can happen and can even happen quite quickly. Both partners are feeling heard and respected in their position. The most likely outcome of dialogue is compromise or some other form of healthy resolution.

To prevent gridlock (since I think that is where we all want to be in our relationships), it’s incredibly important that both partners know and understand themselves and how to self-soothe. You need to understand yourself emotionally and physiologically. What happens in your body when you feel defensive, misunderstood, or silenced? Do you get louder? Does your heart rate increase? Do you take up more space with your body or your voice? What do you need to do to manage those emotions in the moment? Sometimes it may mean pausing the conversation entirely, taking a walk, changing the subject (temporarily), making a joke, or even requesting time.

As mentioned in previous blogs, vulnerability is also incredibly important for dialogue and relationship satisfaction. When we are able to be vulnerable during an argument, we are able to accept influence, admit fault, and manage feelings of defensiveness to maintain healthy and effective communication. You have to be vulnerable enough to say that you are not always right about everything. You can make mistakes and your partner likely has valid points as well as valid emotions. If you model vulnerability, it drastically heightens the chances that your partner will follow suit.

Here are some helpful statements you can say to your partner to stay away from gridlock and move toward dialogue:

“You have a good point there.”

“Let me think more about that.”

“I can see where you are coming from.”

“I appreciate you sharing with me how you feel.”

“Let’s meet in the middle.”

“So, what I hear you saying is . . .”

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